The Happiness Playlist Excerpt

Excerpted from THE HAPPINESS PLAYLIST Copyright ©  2019 by Mark Mallman. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.


f a person asks me about my home, I say, Its the oppo- site of a hospice.” In a Dollar Store plastic frame hangs an 8x11 computer printout reading “Think positive
and positive things will happen.” The windows stay open as much as possible. My bowling ball waits by the front door for fighting off robbers. Rent goes out on time. My plants are both named Robert. They are going on two years old. Its the longest I’ve kept anything alive.
The bathroom is lime green. Above my toilet is a sign that says “Do what makes you happy.” I own enough hair- spray to get me into an outpatient program. The medicine cabinet holds no medicine. Sometimes I take cold showers. A study shows they induce calm in test subjects. If anything makes a person feel like a test subject, its a cold shower.
The checkerboard tile in my kitchen gets filthy quick, es- pecially in winter when dirty snow tracks in. Dad’s advice is to wash only the white ones.
On a dry-erase board is a list of things to do: Quiet the mind. Breathe/Love. Gym. Nature. Kindness. Water—Health. Sunshine. People + Joy. I’ve never erased it.
In regard to cooking, the fire alarm urges me to order out. Everything else is microwaved. Once I microwaved salmon.


You’re not a true bachelor until you use a slice of bread as a napkin.
On a stack of dictionaries sits Maneki-Neko, my fortune cat. Anything smiling and waving is welcome. Such are the methods of design therapy, to cram as much happy crap into the house as possible.
On the fridge are pictures of Gilligan, a drawing of Saint Francis, my nephews, a handout from the doctors office that lists “Fifty Ways to Take a Break,” and a picture of a Zen cen- ter I’ve never visited. A handwritten message reads “Have a good day. Buy a hot dog. Love, Dad.”
There is also a laminated photo of Mom. She wears a white lace dress. A green and lavender corsage is pinned above her heart. Her hair curls in loose, gold ringlets. It was taken the day of my brother’s wedding. Mom’s smile is off center and true. In her obituary, it says, “She was the embod- iment of joy.”
The bedroom is white and sparse. Over the blinds hang floor-length lace curtains. They diffuse the light when the sun rises though the east window. Then the room becomes a grapefruit, bright and on fire. A fan stays on to cover up ear ringing. On a hook on the door hangs a Minnesota Twins ballcap from one of two performances I’ve given during games. The cap makes me proud to get out of bed and hustle another musical day.
The three-tiered bookshelf hosts titles like The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World, College for Sinners, Warlord of Kor, and the screenplay to Grease. The bottom shelf is crammed with a multitude of unread self-help books. The middle shelf holds The Martian Chronicles, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a gifted copy of Harry Potter that folds over at the first page, the autobiography of Jenna Jameson, and Peter Pan.
To say I own a Picasso isnt a lie. On the south wall hangs

my prized Picasso (poster), Three Musicians. A $10 Picasso poster is a Picasso nonetheless. Aside from three musicians, there’s a dog in the painting. Therefore, the title is flawed. Hadnt Picasso heard a dog howl to a clarinet? Hadnt he lis- tened to one whine with an accordion? A terrible dog musi- cian is a musician nonetheless. The painting/poster should be titled “Four Musicians: One Is a Dog.”
Some crystals rest on the nightstand: amethyst for dreams, rose quartz for love, black tourmaline to protect against evil, and some polished stone to prevent worrying. These crystals are the most expensive things on my night- stand, but not the most valuable. A ceramic angel stands five inches tall. She has wire wings, brown hair in a pony tail, and no face. Her hands are apart, but praying. If she wasnt an an- gel, I’d assume she was clapping. The little sculpture is from a collection of angels Mom kept on her dresser. Dad brought it for me. On the bottom are printed the words “Angel of Hap- piness.”
Some nights, a valve opens in the back of my neck. Fear crawls on my body like spiders. A chilling chemical leaks into my spine. I grasp the angel in my hand, or sometimes to my forehead. With deep breaths, calm builds in soft surges.
Dad and I talk on the phone twice a day. “I’m having anxiety,” I say.
“Think of where you were last year or the year before.
You’ve been doing a good job. Itll pass.
“I worry I’m sick. I worry I’m dying.” I pull the covers off my head. “I dont want to be sick. I dont want to die.
Its good you dont want to die, Mark. Thats a good thing. Also, we dont have much say in the matter.
You make a strong argument. OK, I wont die.“Thanks, me either. Try to relax. Get some fresh air. Get
out of the house.”

“I love you, Dad.” “I love you, too.”
We hang up. My worry is overwhelming. I worry about my blood pressure. I worry about my liver. I worry about pol- itics, climate change, the animals in factory farms, and nu- clear war. I worry that the hair dye I use is seeping through my skull. This slows me down, but it cant stop me from living in my heart. I’m not going to let worry eat my time. I will fight.
A memory comes. On his one-year birthday, my nephew stood, wobbling in a circle of singing adults. He grinned so big his cheeks forced the eyes closed. Love radiated and re- flected back. Music was responsible. This raises a hypothe- sis. Will a steady diet of positive music keep me from the muck of sadness? An experiment is begun. I decide to listen exclusively to The Happiness Playlist. The length of the ex- periment is undetermined. If it works, maybe forever.
I go out dancing. My evening shoes have gold laces. Two necklaces clipped together dangle low on my torn shirt. I wear red camouflage pants and my denim vest. It has spikes on the collar. The word PARASITE is airbrushed in all caps on back. My hair is moussed and locked with an anti-frizz 48-hour hold. If it cant be said with hair, it cant be said.
Its drizzling, always on the windshield but never in the air. Streetlights flicker. In Minneapolis, rain is just warm snow. It seeps through clothes till a person is raining on the insides. I listen to “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang and drive to the club.
Minneapolis. Mary Tyler Moore never lived here. She never got chased off Hidden Beach for skinny-dipping. She never staggered from the CC Club or passed out on the First Avenue dance floor. She never saw the cockroaches on an un- named diner’s wall or had a chef throw a plate at her across the kitchen. She never puked in the stairwell of the old Day-

tons ramp. She never finished a Wondrous Punch from the Red Dragon or sang “Bootylicious” to a room of strangers at the Vegas Lounge. She never lived here. She never grieved here. Yet she’s the one with a bronze statue on Nicollet Mall.
The nightclub is called Icehouse. Inside, Maurice reclines on the bar. He is tapping a beer bottle to the rhythm of the music. Maurice has toured the world many times. Anything around him becomes a drum. Stage walls. Booze bottles. Cats. He is a drummer/rapper that grew up outside of Mil- waukee too. He wears his beard trimmed short and a blaze orange trucker cap that reads “Twerk.” His eyebrows are thick and expressive when he speaks. Aside from music, he has an outstanding ability for arguing.
Maurice isnt sold on the idea of a Happiness Playlist. To him, drowning yourself in one emotion is denial.
“You’re deluding yourself, Mallman.”
No, I just cant be a nihilist anymore, I say. Look at Cobain. Dude didnt write a single happy song and what hap- pened?”
“Karma,” he says, knocking back half his beer in one gulp. “Thats a bad example. My point is songs can be self-ful- filling prophecies. I cant afford gloom for glooms sake right
now. “
“Then why not write about magic?” “Magic? I dont see the connection.
“The magic of music. There’s this guy online, Alan Moore is his name. He wears lots of rings. Looks like Gandalf the Grey. He’s so serious about magic that he’s got a landline.”
“What does a landline have to do with magic?” Its about living off the grid.
“A landline is still on the grid.” “But less on the grid.”
On the dance floor are sounds of rubber bands and air-

craft carriers. Waveforms of euphoria. Fists pump. Shiny purple backpacks sling low. Bare muscles are laid out for all to see. People have hundreds of bracelets on one arm, rail vodka soda in one hand, and a cellphone in the other. Tongues stick out for selfies. They are interracial, intertwined, and interga- lactic. Glorious and free.
Maurice and I watch three of our musical associates slip into the bathroom. He flares his nostrils and sniffs.
“Eh,” I shrug my shoulders. “I’m only here to dance.”
I hit the floor. Disco beams reduce us to rainbow silhou- ettes. We are radiant beings in spiked bracelets, wet with sweat. A woman flips backward to the flooronher bare knees. She wears a charcoal and green screen print of the universe. Once the beat drops, we all scream along. I am washed over in a scandal of instinct and desire.
The Big Bang was the first music. It was a drum solo. Then came cave noise, primal beats of rocks and bones. Blood songs. Songs of birth, sex, and death. Songs that bend reality. Is God music?
Atbarclose, I edgemy way throughthecrowdtothedoor. A woman in a sheer black blouse with sequin pineapples over her breasts locks eyes with a stranger. Three friends lean to- gether and raise their middle fingers for a picture. They are all wearing tropical shirts. My ears buzz a ring modulation.
That night I fall asleep listening to “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey. My sleep unfolds in abstract waves. Scary monsters. Grief dreams. I wake up several times. The horror lingers but not the story. I dont remember the dreams, just the fear. None of this has to do with Mariah. She’s innocent in the case of my nightmares.
In the morning, my eyelashes are crusty from sleep cry- ing. Its tiring, but grief opens up new ways of seeing. It re-

veals new ways of loving. Time is a slow medicine. There’s still hard work ahead.
My doctors office sits in a multipurpose building on the north end of Lake Harriet. I stop at Mesa Pizza before my noon appointment. I hope the nurse doesnt smell pepperoni on my breath. Instead, she asks if I have a snoring problem.
“Do you wake up often with a rapid heartbeat?”
“Yes. I have my worst anxiety at night, while sleeping.” Lets take your blood pressure. She motions to my left
arm. “Roll up your sleeve, please.”
The nurse tightens the Velcro arm band. Her fingers touch in a mothering way. The monitor breathes and pumps and swells. All I feel is where she brushed me. I’m swaddled in warm thoughts of my own mother’s disappeared touch. Then, a shiver. Mom? The white machine hisses and beeps me from the trance.
“Blood pressure is good,” says the nurse.
I wonder about her. Does she have children of her own? Grandchildren? Does her mother show through in psychic waves like mine? A nurse is a mother. A doctor is a mother. A pilot, a good cop, birds on wires. All trees. The past and fu- ture are mothers. The first three letters of moment are mom. This is how I know the present is a mother too.
My doc strolls in. We are the same age. Its a checkup. Ailments spout from my mouth in a baker’s dozen. He gives it to me straight, gloves and all. I’m in good physical health. He already knows about my breakdown, and the diagnosis of PTSD. The sleeplessness.
“Sleep apnea is a possibility,” he says. “Would you take a sleep study? Its one of those things you have to stay over- night for.”

The doc hands me a sheet of paper. He smiles. I have one hundred other questions that I save for the internet.
Back home I am reading an article about civilization col- lapsing when my phone battery dies. The opening measures of “Ease on Down the Road” from The Wiz soundtrack come on. I take a day bath. Amid the bubbles I have fun inventing instant classics such as “Ease on Down the Soap.”
After the tub, I put on a sport coat for no reason. No rea- son is the best reason to get dressed up. Preparedness creates. I get a text from one of the top horn players in town,
“Want to get Taco Riendo?”
“Yes!” I knew I dressed up for a reason.
El Taco Riendo means The Laughing Taco. There is a run- ning taco on the sign over the door. It is super crowded in- side. Nobody is running or laughing. There’s nothing funny about waiting in a long line.
“I’m just going to get three orders of fries,” I say. I could have said anything. She isnt listening.
“Sounds great.”
The menu has her full attention. “Ooh, chocoflan. I bet thats good. Hi, my name is Ingrid. Im going to eat all the things.”
“Is food more important than music?”
“I have a system. Top shelf is music, food, and sex. All together in a row, like expensive tequilas.”
Huge portions of warm tortillas and fixin’s are set on trays before us. All the booths are full, so we take a table in the middle of the restaurant.
The walls appear to be decorated by an interior design student with thirty-five bucks at a rummage sale. Ingrid mo- tions at some objects arranged on a table, including a porce-

lain Jesus. “Isnt it interesting how Jesus is standing next to a giant mug of Corona?”
“He parties, obviously. Did you gig yesterday?” “Yeah. It was fun. People danced.”
She gathers together her existence from various sources: her own gigs, jobbing on other people’s gigs, and teaching. For a while, she played brass section in an orchestra, but it didnt vibe. Were all feeling our way in the dark.
It is nice to spend dinner in such company. The food is delicious. Tejano music plays. There’s a TV on a steel arm in the corner. It gives the restaurant that hospital room flair. On the screen a man is holding a computer like a baby.
“You think dancing makes people happy, or happy peo- ple dance?” I wonder.
“Yesterday, I was at the post office, and a Michael Jack- son song came on. I didnt even realize I was dancing. In- grid shakes her shoulders side to side. “When I got to the counter, the woman behind me said, ‘Girl, nobody can stay still when Michael Jacksons on.
“I like ‘Ease on Down the Road’ from The Wiz. Michael sings that one. It makes me happy.”
“Want to be happy? Listen to anything by Mozart.” “Anything? Requiem?” I pull the last bits of cheese from
my plate.
“Yes. Vivaldi is also fun. Again, even though he wrote all these songs for young girls in the conservatory, much of his music is in the minor key.”
We hit each other up whenever the classical station is playing a great Sibelius tone poem or Aaron Copland. Then we discuss the local music scene, which is spirited and dy- namic and ours. There’s no need to complain about those around us who are only in it for the booze, sex, or social sta-

tus. We both know that if you’re not in it for the music, this business will devour you.
“I’ll be right back.”
I hop to the front counter and order chocoflan. It is dif- ferent than the picture on the wall. There is a thick layer of flan on the bottom, yellow cake in the middle, and fudge on top.
“Flan is the only crème brûlée I can afford,” I say. “Crème brûlée is overpriced in America. Not in Paris,”
she says. And there, its much bigger.
The dessert is big enough to split ten ways. Each bite sends sugar rushes all the way to the toes.
“All America could come up with is pudding and moist cake mix.”
“That is one of the grossest-sounding words,” she says. “Pudding?”
To think if I never put a sport coat on, I’d have said no to tacos when Ingrid texted. I put a necklace on, too. The silver spikes weigh light against my chest and jangle together when I laugh. Autumn is full throttle. The day is getting dark ear- lier. In the span of our dinner, the city has become a shadow. On the way out, I high-five the porcelain Jesus. Ingrid and I hunch in our thin coats and shiver. Gusts of wind blast through the holes in my ripped jeans. In the distance, sirens. I’m triggered. A flashback haze takes over. I see Dad open- ing the door to the police. He says nothing. He knows what they’ve come to say. Then I’m at the scene of it. An ambu- lance is being loaded. Its Mom. A rush surrounds me. Nau- sea. I blink across time-space back to Central Avenue. Ingrid is saying something, but that siren washed it out. The siren
has faded.
In the van, we listen to Sly and the Family Stones Dance

to the Music.” The funk brings my heart back to the moment. Back to the city. Back to Minneapolis.
“Love that beat and those horns!” Her head bobs to the rhythm. “This groove cuts all the way through. In popular music, especially hit songs, simplicity is where its at.
We get on the freeway. Sly continues to the vocal break- down. The whirl of my van tires are in key with the a cappella voices.
“This the most famous part of the song, the non-lyrics,” she says. “Do doo—do doo—do do doo.”
“Nonsensically sublime, as Howard Devoto put it.” “Also, I love hand percussion.” Ingrid does a bucket seat
dance as we barrel down the interstate. It is a deleted scene from Footloose.
The asphalt beneath us is fresh with sleet. It sprays the surrounding cars as we speed by them. My window doesnt close tight. A whistle sings in my left ear. Everywhere is mu- sic. Somewhere under the Indian Ocean is a white whale that knows nothing about our mixed-up musical methods. Yet it sings. Somewhere in deepest Africa an elephant knows noth- ing about topping the charts. Yet it sings.
I’m back home when a timer chimes. My shoes that squeak on linoleum are musical too. The furnace blows. The house breathes. I sleep.
Thursday morning, Maurice asks for a ride to the mu- sic shop to return a broken tape recorder. He doesnt have a driver’s license. When I pick him up, he is wearing a full- body cat onesie.
“Can I smoke in the van?” he asks.
“Depends on how flammable that cat costume is.”
“Got this for Halloween. Now I wear it all the time.” He rolls the window open.
“Maurice, you smell like my grandpa.”

“Your grandpa smelled like weed?” “No. Cigarettes and Wisconsin.”
He reminds me of Milwaukee in a time I’d never been. Maurice could have been Dad’s childhood friend who sneaked in the back doorof movie houses with him. Then again, I dont think Dad ever had a friend with a full-body cat suit. But we all have secrets.
“Im telling you, man, Im never taking this thing off. Its impossible to stop Maurice from being Maurice. If you try to, you’ll miss his beauty.
“Gray is a good color on you.” “Yep.”
He sucks on a cigarette and flicks it onto the road. Dont get white, because white gets dirty.”
“Or you could just wash it.”
I hit the gas and the speakers at the same time. St. Vin- cent is singing Digital Witness. We turn left on Lyndale. Its a short trip. He could have walked, but I enjoy the company.
Maurice goes into the music shop. I wait outside. Lucky for me, JM comes strolling down the sidewalk. JM is my main guitarist. When he plays a solo, clouds part. Smoke machines break. There is a metaphysical field around him. I leave my coat off to feel the last of the warm wind. Some- thing soapy is in the breeze. A cleanness. Musicians tend to notice this foreign aroma called soap. JM’s silken hair lilts with the finesse of a freshly washed guitarist.
“I played a dinner gig last night,” he said. “How’d that pay?”
Its good. This month Im making adult money.“That’s great.”
“You should pick that gig up, man.”
“I dig jazz, but right now I’m only doing happy music.” “What do you mean? Jazz is happy.”

Kids with guitar cases rotate in and out of the store. They all wear the same blue flannel from generations ago. The one we wore when grunge was the thing. Maurice emerges. JM’s mystery soap smell is overtaken by a weed smell.
“They got to process my return? They sold me a broken recorder, whats to process? I dont get it, man.
Damn. Thats a drag, buddy.
JM steps around the corner and into the store. “See you at rehearsal, Mall-Man,” he shouts.
“Who was that?” Maurice asks.
Its my guitarist, JM. You probably dont recognize him in street clothes.”
“Dude smells good. Clean.” “I know, right?”
Next, we slag around the art museum to kill time. Up- stairs, we see violent paintings of religious atrocities. Maurice talks at great length of Anabaptist hysteria in six- teenth-century Germany. The full-body cat onesie is a detri- ment to his credibility.
“I bet every painter in this museum smoked weed,” he says.
With great restraint, I do not touch the beckoning landscape of Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun by Vincent van Gogh. I’ve exercised this restraint since art school. The painting still grabs at my hand with a secret tractor beam. I pull away before the alarm sounds. Dearest Vincent, you are my Superman. The popularity of impressionism was just on the horizon when you left. If you could see us now, gushing over this work, maybe you’d have kept fighting.
“Once I thought Van Gogh sold only two paintings,” I say. “The more I research, the less certain the number. Guess how many works were commissioned, sold, or traded for other paintings?”

“How many?”
“Nobody knows. Which painting was his last?” “Which one?”
“Nobody knows. Did he actually shoot himself in the stomach?”
“Nobody knows?”
A myth of suffering enshrouds the great painters. Its preposterous to assume all great art is conceived in torrid, emotional squalor. Its clear from the work that Van Gogh painted with his heart. His painting is bright, sunny, and dripping wet. Its as if he sneaked out of the room just before- hand. Someday I will catch him and say thank you for inspir- ing the world.
I would like to treat Van Gogh to some Dairy Queen. Our strawberry cheesecake will resemble the sky in Olive Trees. We will ooze into one another like human paint. The sky will become a spaghetti twist of ruby and tangerine. Surrounding us will be a frame painted in gold. Below the painting, a card will read The Ice Cream Eaters. Oil on Canvas. Date Unknown.
Maurice and I walk down a marble hallway and marvel at a hyper-realist painting of Muhammad Ali.
“A museum is a mausoleum,” I say.
“Look at all these fancy paintings. When musicians die, we’re basically forgotten.”
“Not Prince.” “Exception.”
The most purply painting at this place is View of Dres- den: Schlossplatz by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. I have no idea what Schlossplatz means, but my guess is grape soda. It is a little-known fact that Kirchner augmented his paintings with grape soda, where his other contemporaries used lin- seed oil. If you doubt me, go smell one. When the guard asks what you’re doing, say, “I’m smelling the Schlossplatz.”

“Hey, man, I love the museum, but today is my only day off. I want to get high at some point,” Maurice says.
Absolutely. Lets cut out. This crap aint going anyplace.
Its closing in five minutes anyway.
We take the stairs past the museum restaurant. I was fired as a cashier there in college. Never be good at some- thing you wouldnt want a career in.
In the parking lot, I put on “Happy” by Pharrell. “What do you think of this song?” I ask.
He bursts out laughing. The ears on his cat costume flop around. “Musically or sarcastically?”
I think its well written, I say. Its gota solid groove too.Structurally,  sonically,  and  emotionally,  its  perfect.
Pharrell figures out these perfect pop formulas.” “Do you like it?”
“I cant relate, man. When I was growing up, tragedies were what made me play music. I related to musicians or songs that expressed anger, sadness, and confusion.”
So it doesnt make you happy?”
“This song is a joke. Theres no dirt. No grit. Its not hu- man. Plus, I’m not happy. But who is?”
“It makes me feel good.” “Good for you then.”
After dropping him off, I call the costume shop about animal onesies. They are out. When I get home, the duplex is grey inside. Autumn rain taps on the windows. My piano is set up in the corner. I play fast songs slow, waiting on the microwave. The tail on the Kit Cat clock moves in sync with its eyeballs. Left. Right. Left. Right. Hypnosis.
The next day is sunny cold. Its a superb morning to be an indoor plant. Plants know secrets to happiness. They keep reaching toward the light. There’s a message in there. If you find yourself in some corner, bend so the greatest amount

pours on you. Dont punish yourself for wanting to give up. Wanting to give up and giving up arent the same.
Be serene. Stretch. Stay hydrated.
I drive to the coffee shop to meet my buddy Jones. I wonder what his take is on Pharrells Happy. Jones isnt active in any hip scenes anymore, but he still performs the hours away like the rest of us. With tough golden skin and hair black as a record, the guy has played in the same band for forty-two years. In Minneapolis before the Minneapo- lis sound, there was a piano in every lobby of every hotel in town. Jones says it was great for sniffing up cash.
Through the window the trees are on fire with autumnal blaze. The scene in the trees is fire while they ready for sleep. A leafy, midafternoon sunset. I buy a steamer in a to-go cup with almond milk and sugar-free caramel syrup. It fogs my glasses. Thats why they call it a steamer. The heat shocks my system awake. Our table is unstable. I step on the leg so our drinks wont spill.
“What do you think of the Pharrell song ‘Happy’?” “When I first heard that song, it did make me happy. I
remember watching him get choked up on TV, talking about how it affected people. Its powerful.
“Powerfully annoying?”
A  long  time  ago  there  was  a  song  Dont  Worry  Be Happy,’ which annoyed people because it was played too much. They say, Dont sweat the small stuff, and everything is small stuff,’ but if you heard a song quote that ten times a day . . .” He raises his eyebrows.
Songs dont have to hit you over the head to be effec- tive. Thats if you, me, Pharrell, Lana Del Rey, or whoever intend to write a song of such effectiveness to begin with.”
“A lyric about lying on the beach might be enough to get your mind off walking through two feet of snow,” Jones says.

He speaks in guided meditations. Always about some beach somewhere. The lines on his face are etched by slugging it out in piano bars year after year. It wouldnt be hard to write sheet music on him. “Who’s Lana Del Rey?” he adds.
The drink heats my belly and my belly heats my skin. Re- laxation comes in percentages. When it drifts, I drift with it. I find new ways to invite it in. Meeting with Jones is one such activity.
“Do you feel music has shaped your mind over time?” I ask.
“In big ways. Everything from the low animal brain of your cerebellum bopping along with the rhythm to the higher parts of your brain envisioning a beach somewhere is shaped by songs.”
“There’s a song by Nine Inch Nails called ‘Heresy.’ Reznor sings God is dead, nobody cares, and he’ll see you in hell. I used to blast ‘Heresy’ and scream along. It helped. How do you think that shaped my mind?”
Because it addresses emotions, Jones says. Its good to get those out. Anger is a natural part of the human condi- tion. We need it to survive.”
Jones, anger makes me angry. I dont like it.
“Grim feelings do exist, and we have to find a way to deal with them. There needs to be a balance of positivity for not what we are trying to avoid but where we are trying to get.”
“I’m working to stay happy. I made a Happiness Playlist.” “Thats one way. Keep working, but remember balance.
My drink is sweet and creamy and the leaves are floating off the trees outside and the coffee shop is warm and dry and Jones is kind, even if we disagree about grim feelings. We talk about Elvis and surfing till its time to go. We fist-bump goodbye.
After the coffee shop, I make a tally of happy activities.

I’m going to take a cue from Jones and practice growing the calm to balance my worry. I’ll discover how to be on both sides of fear, and visualize switching from one to the other. I’ll surround myself with people who lift me up. When I start thinking scary things, I’ll steer the mind. I’ll tape slide whis- tles over my vents. I’ll take off my socks. I’ll watch trees.
Annie and I go to the mall that night. We pass the insur- ance office where her cube is. We pass the airport. A mon- strous Boeing 717 flies dozens of feet over the van. I duck my head for dramatic effect.
“I wonder if anyone has ever tried to stuff a bag of sea- soned hot wings onto a plane because they hate airplane food?” I ask.
“Up the butt?”
“I didnt think that far ahead, but yes. Security might pull them aside thinking they caught a drug mule.”
“Until they pull out a baggie full of squished hot wings.” “I’d bet the person gets arrested anyways because TSA added flaming hot wings to the suspected terrorist hijack weapons list. Not that I would try it, because I love this
“And why waste a hot wing?”
That weekend, six blocks of downtown is quarantined for a horror and music festival. The Zombie Pub Crawl is an annual mega concert where people dress up like The Walking Dead and get blasted on party liquor. In the coming hours, 30,000 face-painted slugs will get blitzed off their undead butts. Its a corpses Cabo Wabo. Zombies throwing up on storefronts. Zombies making out in pizza lines. Zombie nurses slamming Jell-O shots. Zombie Pokemons with Zombie Richard Nixons passed out in taxis.
Load-in is 5 p.m. Because of the quarantine zone, we drive the wrong way up a one-way to the club.

My  band  van  is  called  Night  Ghost  because  its  near black. Before Night Ghost were The Silver Bullet and The Steely Van. If I could drive a piano, we’d tour in that.
We load our gear through the side door. The light guy is a longtime peer named Mud. I havent seen him much, as he is a full-timer in the lighting world and tours a lot. At this point in the business, he goes by Duke. This is a friendly surprise. Mud has shaved his head. He looks like Ed Harris, or in the right light, a death angel. I know him from the time in his life when he got stabbed in the knee.
“Want to eat dinner with us, you bastard?”
“I wouldnt be caught dead with you. Which means yes. We walk a mile and a half to Grumpy’s on Washington Avenue. Die Hard plays on the TV on the wall. It makes me sentimental for the holidays. With Dad in Wisconsin, and
my brother in LA, my band is my Minneapolis family.
Dinner arrives. The tater tots are steaming from the fryer. Whiskey spills into low-ball glasses. A tall club soda with lime comes for me. Anyone in Minneapolis eating alone is welcome to join us but nobody does.
“You guys doing the Zombie thing tonight?” asks the server.
On TV, Bruce Willis crashes through a glass skyscraper. “Bloody feet. The worst.”
Annie meets up with me at the quarantined zone. Its a mess with costumed drunks. They moan and lope about. The word “Braaaaaaaaains!” echoes from behind a Porta-Potty. We catch a few minutes of Smash Mouth performing “I Cant Get Enough of You, Baby.
Thirty thousand decaying drunks at the Zombie Pub Crawl party hard. Showtime approaches. I’m backstage ad- justing my red jeans in the mirror. I slop two gobs of INVISI

Gel Max Hold in my hair and slick it back. The green room window is cracked open. Fake death moans echo up the street.
There is a knock at the door. The stage manager yells, “Showtime!”
The band is on fire. We are in a perfect state of flow. I sa- lute the crowd and picture Bruce Willis hanging off the sky- scraper. He sees all of Los Angeles lit up for the holiday. He feels the breeze blow against him in contrast with the fire blazing above. Its perilous and awesome at the same time.
Stretch it over seventy-five minutes, and thats what it feels like to perform a rock show. Then its over.
I walk off stage and straight out the stage door to the al- ley to lie on the ground. There are stars up there someplace. My ears scream from tinnitus. Streets rumble. The smell of auto exhaust fills my nose. It feels safe on the concrete. Mu- sic has given me confidence that the earth wont crack open and swallow me whole.
Annie texts. She gives me confidence too. “Great job! I’m going to bike home. Have fun.”
It takes three hours to unload the gear and drop off the band. I get into bed at 2:30 a.m. My ears ring. Music vibrates up to the nerve endings of my teeth. Face in pillow, I dream that the world’s last surviving newspaper headline reads “Local Cryogenist Keeps Rock Music in a Jar for Future Wed- ding Reception.”
During the week, Dad and I talk twice a day, as usual. “When times are tight, make soup,” he says. “One crock
of soup can feed a person all week. I’ll send you a crockpot, son. You can make chili and soup just like your old man.”
“If I leave it on, will it start a fire?”
“No way. You can leave a crock on all week. The worst thing that can happen is your soup dries up.”

A day later it comes in the mail. The pot is first-class in size and not cheap. I’ll make Dad proud by conjuring historic soups in this cauldron. It will be a nice occupation to soothe winters grip. Snow isnt far off, even in October. Now is a smart time to hit up the grocery for a season’s worth of soup ingredients.
I text Annie.
“Can I put rice in it?” “Yeah. Carrots too.” “Noodles?”
“Yeah. Noodles are OK. Sour Patch Kids are definitely OK.”
“Can I put donuts in it?”
“Yes, you can make donut soup.” “This is my calling.”
The soup preps come to sixty dollars in total. That in- cludes some bowls. If I could get by a month on these in- gredients, I wouldnt be forced to eat the neighbors. Winter scenarios paint my brain. Soup with the band. Soup dates. Soup with pets. Soup baths.
I text Dad. “What a crock!” “Glad you’re having fun, kid.”
When everything is chopped and dumped in the slow cooker, I get nervous. What have I created? How bad will it be? Mom is somewhere laughing. Her baby boy is making his first soup at forty-three years old.
“This is delicious,” she’d say, no matter how bad it was.
After she passed, Dad cooked alone for months. He crocked up loads of chili and froze it away, looking out the kitchen window at a still picture. One of my last memories of Mom is seeing her framed by that window from the yard. I have memories from both sides of that window. From out- side, as a kid playing in the snow. And from the inside, as

a man coming home from Minneapolis through the garage. Mom liked to look out and see the birds while she did house- work. An angle of road where the school bus stopped could be seen as well.
“My little baby’s home! Are you cold, dear? Dad made soup.” She’d smile. “Look, there’s a cardinal in the tree.”
But what was behind her faraway gaze? Father Kurt said it was between her and God. He said we’d never know the answer. A person wastes time asking why. You cant solve problems with problems. Wise priest.
The sacred crock simmers. Something delicious is brew- ing in that magic jar. How would my first soup taste?
I call Dad.
Itll be good, relax, he says. You cant screw up with a crock. We had a big slow cooker at work. In the morning we’d dump some corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, and chopped onion in the sucker. By eleven we’d all be sitting around a table eating delicious lunch.”
“I bet that was the tastiest.”
“Your mother had a crockpot she liked for a long time.” “I remember. It was round and white, with vegetables
painted on the side.”
Dad’s voice perks up when we talk about her. “Yes! It had a brown knob and a brown cover. She’d call me at work and say, Dont forget to turn the crock off when you come home.Sometimes I’d forget, though.”
“But it still tasted good?”
“When your mother cooked, it always tasted good. Be- cause it was your mother.”
Its  true.  Mom  made  crêpes  with  blueberries  on  Sat- urdays. She made chocolate chip cookies with walnuts and deep-dish pizza in a cake pan. Mom sang when I played piano while she cooked stuffed green peppers or pumpkin pies. She

was strong and emotional and liked to go dancing. When I was five, we sang “Rockin’ Robin” in the car. She taught me how songs heal. In her final months, she cried to me. Buried deep in her sorrow, the music was still there. Maybe its what she became after she died.
The crockpot makes the kitchen smell like a genuine home. Every half hour I come up from the studio, worried about a soup fire. By sunset it is time. I fill a bowl up. The on- ions and carrots are soft and tasty. It is a fair success. I take pictures.
One crock of food gets me through three days. What fru- gal genius invented this magical machine?
Obviously, witches. Cauldrons are all the proof I need. My phone rings. Its Annie.
“Hi, Mark. I wanted to . . .” She pauses. “I wanted to call and tell you in advance, I made plans tonight. I’m going to Icehouse tonight for a show. So you might not want to go there.”
“On a date?”
Again, silence. Light years of the stuff. I slump against the cupboard in the wall. My head withers along the warped wood. I say nothing.
Its hard for me, too, Mark. But I figured you should know, so I didnt surprise you if you ended up there.
“I’m sorry for whatever I did to contribute to this. I love you so much.”
You didnt do anything at all. No apologies.“How did it ever get to this place?”
“We agreed on this, remember? Have a good night.” “Good night, Annie.”
Shes right, I cant beat myself up. Theres never a right time to talk down to yourself. I’m debating a tattoo that says “Crying for No Reason Is OK.”

Wonderful Annie, honest and true, even after a breakup. A layer of electricity forms between my muscles and skin. Anxiety. My nose stings from fighting tears. Worry and fear are created in the mind. The brain is constant in having to create the mind. It babysits itself. There’s no standard to anxiety, which is why there’s no standard to fixing it. Squir- rels know this. They risk their lives on electrical wires be- cause they understand balance.
I go for a walk along Minnehaha Creek. Vibrant impres- sionist water diffuses a scene of urban woodlands. If Monet were alive today, there would be Doritos bags and crushed beer cans in his paintings too. In the water, I see one small lost fish.
“Pay attention, and look at all that appears. Thats the way it works if you watch for the details,” Dad says.
So thats what I do. The longer I look into the creek, the more fish I notice, the more beauty I discover. I feel better. I also discover there are soup stains all over my pants.
When  I  get  home,  the  playlist  is  going.  Its  Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” I have nobody to dance with, so I have a bunch of soup alone. Thats nice, too, in a different way.
On Friday I have rehearsal. Sonic booms shake loose any rust around our bones from the week. JM’s wiry hands graze the guitar as if through hot dish water. It is too graceful. Grace is a thing that doesnt belong in my rock show. I stop the song.
“Why the hesitation?” I ask.
“I’m worried about going over the top.” “There is no such thing.”
“I dont want to step on your toes, though.
Darren, the drummer, points at me with his stick. “He steps on his keyboard all the time.”

“Step, man. Stomp.”
We run through the song again. This time he shreds. Re- hearsal finally sounds as it should, like a construction site.
Friday night flickers on. Its Halloween weekend. Ingrid calls. Shes going to a release party for a book. Its a concert party at First Avenue, on the 7th St. stage. I join her. We are two R-rated movie buddies on the loose. There is nothing romantic between us. I’d never date another musician. It would be like two spiders trapped in a glass jar.
Whats with this rain-not-rain stuff?”Its called October.
Street neon reflects in puddles. A drunk limps by, her mouth an open airplane hangar. It is the type of mouth that whistles when breathing. It exists independent of the body.
“The living dead,” I say.
Its just kids having fun, Mark.“Not sorry. I’m a wet grump. Bah!”
We get to the show. Some sexy trophy boy in a white tee sways side to side on stage. The kid is crazed, knees wobbling and throbbing in time. He used to be me. I lean on the bar, and wait for a water. Got to shake these grumps. Science says hold a smile long enough and it becomes real. My argument is, when a goldfish swims in a tank of grape soda, does the goldfish become grape soda? Even so, I force a smile. It works. Later, we head to the Depot Tavern. Motorhead blares from stereo speakers over the bar. Lemmy sings about how he doesnt want to live forever. I do. The restaurant is packed. We walk out. The street is bustling despite the rain.
Midnight brings an urban smell of concrete forests. “Want to go to a costume party?” I ask.
We speed across town. The heat rushes louder than the radio. “California Stars” by Billy Bragg and Wilco plays. The

freeway is wet and shiny. In a month it will be iced.
We havent any costumes, but it doesnt matter. All par- ties are the same. We bring a box of cookies from the gas sta- tion. BYOC. After a hundred wondrous snapshots of nothing happening, we leave.
Early a.m. traffic rolls along. Ingrid and I are both too tired to talk. The last thing we agree on before I drop her off is that at least it isnt snowing.
At night I dream that deep soot clouds cover up the city. “All they manufacture are ashes,” says Ingrid. I throw a snow- ball at nothing in the parking lot and miss.
Two nights later its Halloween. The earth is gray with sleeping trees. I see a runaway dog. It appears to be laughing. Frightened dogs get mistaken for happy ones. Beyond that, is laughter even happiness? The wicked witch doesnt laugh because she’s happy. She’s happy because she is evil. Music isnt like that. Its not misleading. Music can only be music.
Annie is in Brooklyn visiting a friend. We’ve made a plan not to text each other. Its difficult, but I must learn to be single again. The plan is to try to have fun all by myself. I slip on my white jumpsuit. Its airbrushed with a spoon and cherry on the back. Emoji sunglasses finish off the costume. I’ll tell people I’m Meta Elvis. Nobody asks.
There are seven parties to attend. There is a party over- looking the freeway from a hill, and one around a fire where rappers gather. My favorite party serves undercooked brownies. I cram some in the jumpsuit pockets and forget about them.
Maurice is standing in the front yard. “Mallman, I’m hiding. Shhh!”
“Dude. I can see you.”
He wears dreadlocks, a red union suit, and googly eyes taped to his hair. “I’m a Rock Lobster.”

“You look like Howard Stern in red pajamas. What hap- pened to your cat onesie?”
“I washed it and it fell apart.”
He staggers inside. I get in my van.
Uptown McDonalds isnt on the way home, but Im crav- ing a number two. To clarify, thats two cheeseburgers, fries, and a medium-sized lithium battery acid.
“$5.22. Please pay at the second window.”
While waiting, I watch a neon party bus bounce down Hennepin Avenue. Grown adults dangle out the window. They shout wolf cries and drool Rumple Minze onto the street below.
At the window, the employee pauses. “That looks fun.” “When you’re older, you’ll be glad you worked instead of
The car behind me honks. I drive away.
At the stoplight, a fake Rastafarian sways. When the light turns green, it matches the color of his nausea. His mouth swings open, eyes wide to the sky.
Back on Cedar Avenue, a suspicious minivan is stopped in the road. A batch of greasy-eyed teenage freaks cackle in- side as I pass. Then smack, an egg hits my side window.
A volcano of white hot fire blasts through me. I smash the horn, crush the gas pedal, and give chase. The side streets are wet and slick. I am a caveman on wheels, entangled in a savage, swerving, downright wicked van chase. With teenag- ers. Fumbling one-handed, I attempt to get a photo of their license plate but the automatic flash is on. All I can get out of my mouth is “You!”
Our vans whip through residential streets. I have one hand on the horn, and the other on my phone, chasing them down an alley, driving with my knees again. Meanwhile, my camera is taking flash photos of the dashboard.

I let go of the picture idea. What now? Ram them into a light post? Sideswipe them off the river bridge? By this time they are gaining distance. I decide to throw something. In back is my thirteen-pound bowling ball. I cantrisk its bounc- ing off a side panel and back into me. Plus, I’d paid extra to have my name engraved on it. Instead, I chuck a half-full bottle of ibuprofen. It bounces off the road and opens; 200 mg tablets spray over my windshield.
We jet out the alley and back onto Cedar. My final re- course, and last resort, are the cheeseburgers. The first one falls out of its wrapping mid-launch. Part of the bun clings to my hood. The kids are far away by this point but I throw the second burger on principle. It bounces sadly. I run it over. A pair of taillights rounds the corner blocks away. They are out of sight. It is no use throwing the fries.
I pull over to the side of the road. My hands shake. I morph back into my adult self. What have I become? Giving chase and letting go was the best-case scenario. Even if I did catch them, what then? Beat up teenagers? More likely I’d have gotten beaten up by them. The mind doesnt fully de- velop the ability to assess risk until age twenty-five. What is my excuse? Thats when I realize it was them who let me go.
On the couch watching Labyrinth is how Halloween ends. I breathe deep, close my eyes, and eat a fry.